Symbolic Reference/Deacon: Thesis: Symbolic reference is reserved for the human species only, while many animals have complex non-symbolic reference.
Grammar: Grammatical rules and categories are symbolic rules and categories.
Syntax: syntactical structures are only physical regularities if they are not regarded as symbolic operations that need to be decoded.
Language theories must therefore first explain symbolic references.
The fact that linguists have not paid much attention to the symbolic reference is explained by the fact that grammar and syntax can be explained by comparing languages. The correlations of speech processes and brain functions can also be explained without a symbolic reference.
Language acquisition: can be explained largely without relation to symbolic reference.
Animal/human/language/Deacon: but theories that explain the differences between human and non-human communication cannot do without relation to symbolic references. This also applies to theories that compare human and animal minds.
Symbolic reference/Deacon: remains intact even if one stimulus is erased by another, e. g. if the coupling between a signal and a subsequent event is interrupted. An index-like association would not survive this correction.
Learning symbols/animals: if one of several learned characters is erased, this has virtually no effect on the association with other characters. This is quite different in the case of words.
Words: unlike symbols, words are related to all other words of a language.
Symbolic reference/Deacon: arises from combinatorial possibilities and impossibilities. This is the difference to the simple correlation of signals with stimuli.
Symbolic reference/Deacon: no single symbol defines its reference. Reference arises from the hierarchical relationship between the two levels of the sign-like (index-like) reference:
a) no interaction or correlation between the elements, neither at the level of the objects nor at the level of the signs, merely association of sign and object.
b) no interaction (correlation) on the level of the objects - but on that of the signs (meaningful patterns)
Symbol: It is only at the third level that symbolic representation takes place: here there is interaction (or the distinction of meaningful and pointless patterns) on both levels: that of the objects and that of the signs.
New: this makes logical and categorical generalization possible, which is not possible with the generalization of stimuli (stimulus generalization).
Animal experiments: (Savage-Rumbaugh et al., 1978; 1980 and Savage-Rumbaugh 1986): showed with monkeys that new symbols were classified relatively quickly in an already established scheme with different categories of meaning. In this context, an understanding of the functions of the relations between the signs obviously played a role. The attention of the animals was not only focused on the objects, but also on the signs and their relationship to each other.
Categories: the ability to categorize and recognize logical relationships is an essential part of learning symbolic reference.
Symbolic learning: after learning the difference between symbols for edible and non-edible objects, the animals learned to sort the objects into different containers. Later on, they learned something new: they learned how to assign symbols for the respective objects to symbols for the respective containers. In doing so, they showed that they were able to make a symbolic generalization. Understanding/Comprehension/Animal/Deacon.
Symbolic Reference/Brain/Deacon: Thesis: The emergence of the symbolic reference in our distant ancestors fundamentally changed the way natural selection processes changed the human brain since then. Ultimately, the use of language changed something that was reflected in the anatomy and structure of our brain. One could say, "The Word became flesh". (> coevolution of language and brain)._____________Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
T. W. Deacon
The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of language and the Brain New York 1998
Terrence W. Deacon
Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter New York 2013